IN HER CAREER AS AN AWARD WINNING COMMUNICATIONS, MARKETING AND PUBLIC RELATIONS PRACTITIONER, DR MELANIE JAMES USES ACADEMIC RESEARCH TO INFORM HER STRATEGIES AND CAMPAIGNS. AS AN ACADEMIC, SHE DRAWS UPON HER EXTENSIVE PROFESSIONAL EXPERIENCE TO GUIDE HER RESEARCH.
This story was written by UoN Honours Student, Kurt Sengul (on Twitter)
It is this synthesis between theory and practice that has informed Melanie’s research and teaching philosophy which centres on the belief that academics have a responsibility to serve their professional field and the wider community.
“In my practice, I used to do a lot of research into past campaigns and the theoretical work that was happening in academic journals to inform what I was doing,” Melanie says.
“I used to find the ideas in the research could provide different angles and ways of approaching complex communication and marketing problems.”
Joining the School of Design, Communication and IT in 2006, Melanie has authored four books, numerous journals articles, book chapters and conference papers. Her most recent book, “Positioning Theory and Strategic Communication” was published by Routledge in 2014.
Melanie’s extensive experience as a public relations practitioner allowed her to identify gaps between what was being written about in theory and what was actually occurring in practice.
“The way strategy was discussed was inadequate and it certainly didn’t reflect what I experienced in practice, or the way I had managed to achieve success in my programs,” she says.
It was her PhD research that led Melanie to explore Positioning Theory’s application in her field. As part of her research, she interviewed award winning practitioners and found that the term ‘positioning’ was frequently used to describe what they were doing.
“They were using this term like we all knew what it meant,” she says.
“But when I went back to the academic literature, positioning was rarely mentioned outside a narrow product-focused context.”
It was this gap in the literature that shifted Melanie’s PhD research to exploring the positioning concept. She discovered Positioning Theory quite serendipitously by Googling the terms ‘social constructionism’ and ‘positioning’.
“The theory drew on Foucault’s work on discursive positioning which was developed in social psychology by scholars such as Rom Harré, Bronwyn Davies and Luk van Langenhove,” Melanie reports.
“However I soon realised it was very adaptable – it explained it all!”
Having published her theoretical framework in the Journal of Public Relations Research, Melanie was commissioned by Routledge to further develop her PhD research into an academic book. Melanie spent the next two years working to apply and test the rigour of the framework which culminated in the book receiving the endorsement of one of the original co-authors on Positioning Theory, Professor Luk van Langenhove.
For Melanie, positioning can be understood as a strategic and deliberate process whereby discursive positions are actively negotiated and achieved to various degrees. With this research, she is hoping to begin the conversation around to the possibilities and applications of Positioning Theory in the wider marketing and communication fields.
“I currently have PhD and honours students who are working with the framework, testing it and querying it and finding many of the strengths and the flaws within it, which is great,” Melanie says.
Positioning theory has been developed across many disciplines including health, international studies, international relations, education, as well as in journalism and management studies.
In collaboration with Professor Luk Van Langenhove (United Nations University, Belgium) and Dr Christine Redman (University of Melbourne), Melanie is co-organising the inaugural Positioning Theory Symposium to be held at the United Nations University Centre for Regional Integration Studies in Bruges, Belgium, on 6-9 July 2015.
“We will pull together the best of the papers presented at the symposium into a Handbook of Positioning Theory,” Melanie says.
Fittingly, just as academic research enriched her professional career, Melanie’s work offers practitioners a framework to design their strategies.
“I believe the framework can be just as useful in a campaign for a commercial product or service, a community initiative like immunisation, self-branding, or for a cause such as preserving Australia’s wildlife biodiversity,” she says.
Currently, Melanie, along with her colleagues Professor Mark Balnaves and Dr Marc Adam, are taking a cross-disciplinary approach to researching the construct and positioning of digital personae.
“We’re looking at how people position themselves, their brands, causes, services or products using digital platforms and social media,” she says.
“I’m particularly interested in how digital personae are used in contexts to position people, organisations and even human entities such as ‘Grumpy Cat’ or TV series characters.”
In the knowledge of how prevalent strategic positioning is in marketing and communications across both new and tradition platforms, Melanie is committed to exploring and applying Positioning Theory to these dynamic fields.
“Anything that deconstructs things that people take for granted is worthwhile doing,” Melanie affirms.
“It helps shines light on practices that potentially abuse the use of power in our societies, and that can only be a good thing.”
Originally published on Dr Melanie James’ University of Newcastle career profile page: https://www.newcastle.edu.au/profile/melanie-james
Read an overview of Positioning Theory at http://melaniejames.com/about-positioning-theory/